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Do you belong to an organization that elects multiple members to “at large” positions? Switch to PR!

Examples might include the board of a non-profit or professional association, student union or co-op.

Using proportional representation to elect the board of a civil society group is a great way to make your elections fair – and introduce people to proportional voting from the grassroots up.

Isn’t proportional representation just for elections with parties?

Many people think proportional representation applies only when there are political parties (30% of the vote for Party A should mean Party A gets 30% of the seats – you know the pie chart!). This is the easiest way to show PR for federal and provincial elections.

But proportional representation is a principle: That people should be represented in proportion to how they voted. The principle can be put into action in elections with and without parties.

Simply put, PR ensures that like minded voters can elect representatives in proportion to their numbers. If 20% of voters prioritize candidates who are primarily strong cycling advocates, those voters can elect 20% of the representatives.

The original proportional representation system – Single Transferable Vote (PR-STV) – was developed to accomplish this before political parties were established, when voters with values in common were not defined by party labels.

Winner-take-all systems like first-past-the-post mean many votes – including for at-large positions on boards – just don’t count. PR-STV makes almost every vote count, and produces a board team that reflects voter preferences.

Who is using PR for their civil society elections?

PR-STV is commonly used in New Zealand and the UK for civil society elections. This list from about 10 years ago gives you a idea of some of the kinds of places that were using PR. Unfortunately, no-one has kept track of where it is used in Canada! Capilano Student Union, Wilfred Laurier University Student Union, University of Toronto Student Union, Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association, Community CarShare in Southern Ontario (until the sale of the company in 2018), Mustard Seed Co-op Grocer in Hamilton and Fair Vote Canada use PR-STV!

How does my organization make the switch?

There are services like Opavote – that Fair Vote Canada uses for its annual board election – that are inexpensive and make using STV easy for anyone (fill in the candidate names, send your voters a link, voters drag and drop the candidates into order, Opavote tallies up the results).

Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association has a good explanation of STV under Student’s Council and Senate Elections.

If you need help, get in touch! (And if you do make the switch, let us know!)

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